I started writing about food with the intention of collecting stories — my own and other people’s — that would take some interesting paths through time and space. The people who cook it, grow it, raise it and eat it, are at the centre of these stories, but the food itself is as important as the people. Apricots, cherries, clams, asparagus, cows, bees, and the land or sea from which they come, are given equal billing with the human players. I want to understand the connections. I’ve also set out to explore our recollections of food and place, and how we are shaped by them. I think there is meaning in doing so that can make us more awake to the radiant beauty of life, and more aware of the mistakes we make when we forget it. Crumbs on the Table is my essay in looking for links: just a few crumbs off the loaf, scattered a little randomly, like memory, in the attempt.
It is also important to me to record the best of the recipes I have collected through many years of cooking obsession. I have come to realise that I have a book in my head that needs to get out because some of these recipes and their stories are too good to die with me. I have gathered them, magpie-fashion, from many places and people. Some have been given, many are from great cookbooks, both old favourites and new discoveries; some I have absorbed from sources I no longer recall who to credit; a few are my own invention. I have loved to cook, and to be cooked for, as long as I can remember and have made it a life’s habit to seek out special recipes and toy with them, try to master them. I hope other people will enjoy some of these and make them their own.
Cooking for me has been at various times a hobby, and a profession, as well as the daily routine. It has been a passion, a joy, a way to play, regardless. I am blessed to love it and to find it a creative outlet that gives me a way to give. And though I adore the romance of food I recognise the risks in romanticising what is afterall an elemental and therefore complex part of life that often falls to those who have less love for it, but need to do it, sometimes on a shoestring — or who work hard, sometimes for a pittance, to make it possible for others to put dinner on the table. Food can also be a worry, a burden, a resentment, a chronic back-ache. It calls upon the full range of emotions, and the body. I think some of those stories are worth acknowledging, too. For I do believe, if I believe anything, that taking care of basic needs is a serious business and it takes an entire network of endeavour and sacrifice to bring a plate to our table. We could honour that more, and if we did, perhaps we would find more nourishment there, and in each other. More than anything, I want to share the exhilarating wonder of food and its making.
Words have their limits. It’s time to get physical.
Laura Donohue is a writer and cook. She runs Cottage Garden Cookery from her home kitchen near Cambridge, England. After a childhood in Texas and rural southern New Jersey, and adult migration to California (via college in New England), she eventually settled in the UK, where she has lived almost as long as in her home country. She regards herself as a product of many nationalities, having also had life-changing experiences in Denmark, Norway, Bermuda, Ghana, France and Italy. She worked as a writer within higher education for many years, and was more briefly an academic after doing a PhD in comic literature. She has also been director of development for a charity educating girls in Africa, and a lieutenant in the US Navy. She once soloed in a small plane.
A product of the global melting pot, she has found culinary inspiration from her international family and friends; from cooking courses with gifted chefs and teachers; from her travels; and formatively, in the California food revolution of the early eighties, when she lived in Berkeley and cooked for an all-too-brief-while at Chez Panisse. She also ran a kitchen in Palo Alto, California, and taught cookery at the Common Market Cookery School in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Laura remembers most meals she has eaten. She delights in stories and her garden. She loves writing as much as being in the kitchen. She believes it is almost always possible to make things better.